Analysis: Nine months of Obama v. Romney

This analysis examines the relative strength of Obama and Romney over the past nine months, using all available state head-to-head polls (something over 200 of them).

There haven’t been any new state head-to-head polls released in this race since just before Christmas. The pollsters went on vacation, and have since turned their attention to primary polls.

I’ve used the week since the previous analysis to hunt down older polls for this race going back to late 2010. I’ve also double checked the numbers from my first flurry of entering poll data into the computer and found two errors: I flipped the Obama and Romney numbers in a PA poll (which now causes the state to look a little bluer), and I fixed an incorrect sample size in a Georga poll. Among the newly-discovered (but older) polls, I’ve found the only poll from ND and a TN poll that is more recent than any other.

Here is the basic analysis using all state polls taken within the past month or, failing that, the most recent poll:

95.8% probability of winning 4.2% probability of winning
Mean of 316 electoral votesMean of 222 electoral votes

Electoral College Map

AlabamaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutDelawareFloridaGeorgiaHawaiiIdahoIllinoisIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLousianaMaineMarylandMassachusettesMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermontVirginiaD.C.WashingtonWest VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

Electoral College Map

GeorgiaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoDelawareConnecticutFloridaMississippiAlabamaHawaiiIdahoIllinoisIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermontVirginiaD.C.WashingtonWest VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

After 10,000 simulated elections, Obama wins 9,583 times and Romney wins 417 times (including the 34 ties). Obama receives (on average) 316 to Romney’s 222 electoral votes. Obama has a 95.8% probability of winning and Romney has a 4.2% probability of winning.

Here is the distribution of electoral votes [FAQ] from the simulations:

The long term trends in this race can be seen from a series of elections simulated for every week for the past nine months (08 Apr 2011 to 08 Jan 2012). Each week polls are used from the preceding 1 month (or, failing that, the single most recent poll—FAQ).

Over the past nine months, Obama has maintained a clear advantage over Romney. Aside from a brief spell in late November, Obama’s probability of winning has remained above 75% and typically higher. There does not appear to be any clear trend over time—pretty much steady state.

(You can see the maps and electoral vote distributions animated here.)

Back to the current time period, here are the ten most probable electoral vote outcomes for Obama:

  • 312 electoral votes with a 1.63% probability
  • 304 electoral votes with a 1.57% probability
  • 310 electoral votes with a 1.56% probability
  • 306 electoral votes with a 1.52% probability
  • 319 electoral votes with a 1.48% probability
  • 314 electoral votes with a 1.47% probability
  • 313 electoral votes with a 1.45% probability
  • 329 electoral votes with a 1.45% probability
  • 298 electoral votes with a 1.42% probability
  • 321 electoral votes with a 1.41% probability

After 10000 simulations:

  • Obama wins 95.8%, Romney wins 4.2%.
  • Average (SE) EC votes for Obama: 316.0 (28.1)
  • Average (SE) EC votes for Romney: 222.0 (28.1)
  • Median (95% CI) EC votes for Obama: 314 (264, 373)
  • Median (95% CI) EC votes for Romney: 224 (165, 274)

Each column of this table shows the electoral vote total aggregated by different criteria for the probability of winning a state (Safe=100%, Strong=90%+, Leans=60%+, Weak=50%+):

ThresholdSafe+ Strong+ Leans+ Weak
Safe Obama77
Strong Obama142219
Leans Obama8484303
Weak Obama161616319
Weak Romney000219
Leans Romney109109219
Strong Romney53110
Safe Romney57

This table summarizes results by state. Click on the poll count to see the individual polls included for the state.

48VotespollsVotesObamaRomney% wins% wins
AL91*754 37.8 62.2 0.0100.0
AZ111*455 46.2 53.8 12.7 87.4
AR61*1744 40.4 59.6 0.0100.0
CA551*900 55.6 44.4 99.2 0.9
CO91*730 51.1 48.9 65.9 34.1
CT71*544 51.1 48.9 63.6 36.4
FL291*1886 53.9 46.1 99.2 0.9
GA161582 40.9 59.1 0.1 99.9
HI41*517 64.8 35.2100.0 0.0
IL201*846 54.5 45.5 96.8 3.2
IA61*1277 54.1 45.9 98.0 2.0
KS61*442 45.0 55.0 6.3 93.8
KY81*528 45.5 54.5 7.2 92.8
LA81*542 41.1 58.9 0.2 99.8
ME41*586 56.3 43.7 98.3 1.7
MA111*905 63.3 36.7100.0 0.0
MI161*522 47.1 52.9 17.9 82.1
MN101*456 53.3 46.7 83.7 16.3
MS61*717 40.0 60.0 0.0100.0
MO101*435 48.3 51.7 30.9 69.1
MT31*1462 44.5 55.5 0.1 99.9
NE21*658 42.7 57.3 0.3 99.7
NE111*269 50.6 49.4 55.9 44.1
NE211*204 45.6 54.4 18.9 81.1
NE311*185 29.2 70.8 0.0100.0
NV61513 53.4 46.6 85.8 14.2
NH41*993 48.3 51.7 23.2 76.8
NJ141683 61.5 38.5100.0 0.0
NM51455 58.2 41.8 99.4 0.6
NY2911006 60.2 39.8100.0 0.0
NC151*796 50.0 50.0 50.1 49.9
ND31*480 41.3 58.8 0.4 99.6
OH181*1222 49.4 50.6 38.8 61.2
OR71*464 54.7 45.3 92.3 7.7
PA201*363 52.3 47.7 73.7 26.3
RI41*495 59.4 40.6 99.9 0.2
SC91*1833 51.7 48.3 85.4 14.6
SD31*454 37.7 62.3 0.0100.0
TN111*1139 47.5 52.5 11.4 88.6
TX381*560 48.6 51.4 32.2 67.8
UT61*688 33.0 67.0 0.0100.0
VT31*1085 61.4 38.6100.0 0.0
VA1321516 50.5 49.5 60.3 39.7
WA121*496 54.2 45.8 91.3 8.7
WV51*811 38.0 62.0 0.0100.0
WI101*445 52.8 47.2 80.2 19.8

* An older poll was used (i.e. no recent polls exist).

Details of the methods are given in the FAQ.

The most recent analysis in this match-ups can be found here.


  1. 1

    rhp6033 spews:

    Well, we definately need some newer numbers, but it’s an interesting result. I’m particularly interested in Florida – is it really that blue now? A few real crazy Tea Party types won House seats in 2010, and the governor’s race was ridiculous. And you have Virginia, S. Carolina, and N. Carolina in various shades of blue – that seems to me to be an overly optimistic projection, even if the math works from the polling.

    Aside from Florida, it looks like the real battle is going to be in the industrial mid-west, including western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan. Republicans will try to get the more rural Minnesota and Wisconsin, but I suspect that fallout over Scott Walker’s agenda may hurt them there.

    Darryl, I’m interested in the projections on the Senate races nationwide. Given the large number of Democratic seats up for election this year, control of the Senate will be a critical factor.

  2. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    I’ve been thinking about this apart from polls, and it seems to me defeating Obama in 2012 is uphill for the GOP. Here are some factors working against them:

    1. Voters normally will re-elect a sitting president unless they have a good reason not to.

    2. The economy is finally starting to move and will be improving as we approach the election.

    3. Assuming Romney is the GOP candidate, he doesn’t excite the GOP base and his Bain Capital baggage undermines his message and may turn swing voters against him.

    4. Assuming a close race, any independent candidacy likely would siphon off enough rightwing votes to doom Romney’s chances.

    5. Obama has had enough successes (halting the economy’s slide, killing Bin Laden, enacting banking reform, etc.) that he may not be as vulnerable as Republicans want to believe.

    6. The GOP candidate could be hurt by a voter backlash against the congressional Republicans’ recent antics.

    7. If the increasingly tense confrontation with Iran blows up, voters may not want to change commanders-in-chief in the middle of a crisis.

  3. 5

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 4: A Republican president would put things off with Iran until the summer, and then use a show of force to act “presidential” and “decisive”.

    But with a Democratic president, they are somewhat restricted by the moral need to do what is in the best interests of the United States and the members of our armed forces. This means avoiding a shooting war, unless absolutely necessary.

    Of course, the Republicans would claim that trying to avoid a war is being “indecisive” and “weak”. For example, they hailed Ronald Reagan putting a U.S. carrier task force into disputed waters off Libya in the early 1980’s, resulting in a couple of Libyan jets being shot down. But they howled like crazy when Pres. Obama actually accomplished the overthow of Ghaddafi through multi-national cooperation, NATO air strikes, and no U.S. boots on the ground, claiming alternatively that he was being too week or committing U.S. forces recklessly, sometimes within days of one another.

  4. 6

    Randroid spews:

    Don’t worry. Diebold machines and ‘Con election fraud will deliver the election to Republicans.

  5. 8

    rhp6033 spews:

    Oh… my…. God….

    Romney just stepped in it, providing fuel for campaign ads for the next several months. The headlines are reading Romney: ‘I like being able to fire people’

    Now, it’s a bit out of context, in that he’s talking about ending employer-provided health insurance on the grounds that the employee would be able to switch companies if they didn’t like the service provided to them by the health insurer.

    But unfortunately for Romney, that explanation doesn’t help him very much. Because eliminating employer-provided health insurance, without providing another alternative other than shopping on the open market, means that only the reasonably wealthy and healthy folks will be able to be insured. I’d like to hear how he thinks workers in their 50’s with a few pre-existing conditions can expect to afford health insurance.

    It just goes to show how out-of-touch he is about the problems faced by ordinary Americans.

  6. 9

    rhp6033 spews:

    Romney’s handlers have tried hard to keep him from unscripted situations. When they failed to do so, Romney’s gotten into deep trouble – insisting that “Corporations are people too, my friend”, and now saying he likes to be able to fire people who provide him with services.

    My guess is that one of his campaign people is going to put a gag in his mouth which is only removed for scripted public performances. But that’s not going to help him forever, he still has to debate President Obama if he gets the nomination.

  7. 10

    C.H.U.D. spews:

    Romney’s gaffes pale in comparison to Obama and Biden’s, when their handlers arent around or if the teleprompter quits working..

    keep it real..

  8. 11

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @10 Don’t you wish! The unpleasant reality for your ilk is that Obama is a superb public speaker and debater. That’s how he came to public attention in the first place.

    Foot-in-mouth Biden is another matter, but he doesn’t matter.

  9. 13

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    More damaging to Romney than gaffes is his track record. He touts his “business experience” but made his bones as a flipper. No one who buys and sells 77 companies in 14 years is managing anything; that’s simply flipping. In real estate, a flipper may add value by repairing or improving a property before reselling it; but in the business world flipping all too often involves stripping the company’s assets and selling what’s left of the company for scrap. This kind of flipping adds no value to the economy; it’s a zero sum game in which workers invariably are the biggest losers. Working class Americans have seen too much of this in recent years, and if Romney is the GOP nominee, we can expect Democratic ads to take him apart.

  10. 14

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    First Votes

    Okay, Dixville Notch, N.H., has voted and here are the first primary votes of the 2012 presidential election:

    Barack Obama – 3
    Mitt Romney – 2
    Jon Hunstman – 2
    Newt Gingrich – 1
    Ron Paul – 1

    “According to the Associated Press, the … 9 registered voters in Dixville Notch comprised three Republicans, two Democrats and four undeclared voters.”

    AP also reports that “voters in Hart’s Location also cast ballots … shortly after midnight.” Here are the results:

    Romhey – 5
    Paul – 4
    Huntsman – 2
    Gingrich – 1
    Perry – 1

  11. 15

    Zotz sez: It's the SCOTUS, stupid! spews:


    8. No credible Republican chose to run for the Republican nomination.

    9. The only Republican candidate that is in any way presidential (Huntsman), hasn’t got a prayer of getting the Republican nomination.

    That speaks volumes…

  12. 17


    re 13: The flipper also takes debt from a compay that he wants to keep or improve the value of by transferring its debt to the company just bought, thereby dooming the other company and the workers jobs.

    A good ad might be a brief explanation of flipping with a picture of Romney on the screen while the teme music to the TV show Flipper plays in the background.